Fatigue in health measures leads to COVID-19 rise in Africa


COVID-19 cases in Africa have skyrocketed, with a recorded 43% week-on-week rise in deaths according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The surge in cases is a result of frustration and fatigue with key health measures, according to the WHO. It’s also possible the three COVID-19 variants, Delta, Alpha, and Beta, are responsible. The Delta variant, the most transmissible strain so far, has been detected in 21 African nations, the Alpha variant in 35 and Beta in 30.
“This is a clear warning sign that hospitals in the most impacted countries are reaching a breaking point,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Effective treatment is the last line of defense against COVID-19 and it must not crumble.”
The recent surge is the fastest the continent has seen during the entire pandemic. Over the past month, Africa has recorded 1 million new cases, and is now only 1% away from the weekly fatality peak from January 2021. 6,273 deaths were recorded last week, 83% of them from Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia. Currently, an average of 2.6% of COVID-19 cases in Africa become fatal compared to a global average of 2.2%.
Hospitals are suffering extreme oxygen shortages due to disrepair or poor maintenance of production plants, as well as distribution challenges, personnel or technical skills. At least six African nations are experiencing a bed shortage in intensive care. Medical oxygen demand has spiked, hitting 50% higher than at the same time last year, while only 27% of the needed supply is produced.
Additionally, only 18 African nations have confirmed that they are including corticosteroids, a medication recommended by the WHO, in their national treatment guidelines. Nine countries are using non-recommended treatments, including hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir.
“The number one priority for African countries is boosting oxygen production to give critically ill patients a fighting chance,” Moeti said. “Under-resourced health systems in countries are facing dire shortages of the health workers, supplies, equipment and infrastructure needed to provide care to severely ill COVID-19 patients.”
Vaccinations in Africa are also at levels deemed inadequate by the WHO. Africa accounts for only 1.6% of the 3.5 billion people vaccinated worldwide, despite being around 17.21% of the world’s population. Only 18 million Africans, or 1.5% of the continent’s population, are vaccinated. Around 190 million doses are needed to raise the percentage up to 10% by September 2021. 750 million doses are needed to raise it to 30% by the end of the year.
“The double barrier of vaccine scarcity and treatment challenges is seriously undermining effective response to the surging pandemic,” Moeti added.
The WHO is providing guidance on clinical management and support in updating procedure and training health workers in order to improve COVID-19 treatment. It will also work with partners to deliver medical supplies, including oxygen cylinders, and supporting the manufacture and repair of oxygen production plants.